How Business Analysts Can Spearhead Change in the C-Suite
Junior business analysts might spend their first few months getting their footing within a company, but they soon realize that their job requires more than simple data analytics. Today’s BAs are change agents. They review various options within a company and present them based on what they think is best. They identify problems and encourage changes be made before those problems get out of hand.
Sometimes, however, that advice is ignored. Their ideas are placed on the backburner until change is a necessity, such as when an emergency arises. Some BAs struggle to move their projects forward or gain the attention of upper management.
Follow these steps to spearhead change within your organization and start making a difference.
Review How You Communicate With Others
Presenting and public speaking are two skills most people wish they had. They might have great ideas at their desks but are unable to express them coherently when facing a room full of people. However, communication is essential to lead change in your company.
Entrepreneur John Rampton shares a few tips for employees who struggle to make themselves heard in a noisy and competitive workplace. A few ways business analysts can make changes and persuade others include:
Removing distractions from the environment to better hold someone’s attention.
Getting right to the point, and covering the most important information within the first 30 seconds.
Putting important communication (including follow-up messages) in writing.
Listening to what people have to say about your ideas and responding to them instead of continuing with your train of thought.
Bob the BA's Influencing Without Authority course is available for free on their new Video Online Training (VOT) platform. Understanding and using influence is a key part of being a change agent in any organization.
It’s no surprise that one of the keys to get people to listen to you actually involves listening to them. If you can’t pay them the small respect of hearing what they have to say, why should they do the same for you?
Tell a Story With Your Information
While you should certainly come to the presentation armed with data and analytics, the best BAs tell stories with their data that provide context to the information provided.
“To be a successful BA you have to be able to put complex thoughts into terms your audience can understand,” Howard Podeswa, author of The Business Analyst’s Handbook, writes. “It means ditching the technical jargon and learning to use the business vocabulary of your stakeholders. It means being comfortable speaking with anyone from CEO to Customer Service Representative – and being able to adapt your approach to the person you are speaking with.”
With time, you will learn how various stakeholders respond. Some want extensive details and options to choose from, while others want you to get to your request immediately. Your stories will start to change based on who you’re presenting to.
Put Yourself In the CEO’s Shoes
While you may have multiple persuasion techniques for various leaders and influencers in your company, your overall pitch comes down to how the CEO responds to what you have to say.
“Any choice can be decided in just a fraction of second, but behind this decision are many days of research, as well as long lasting effects on the company itself,” Richie Bello, CEO of White Dove Bird, writes. “In terms of vision, a CEO is the developer while a business analyst is the researcher.”
Without business analysts determining the effects of various choices on the company, CEOs are left to rely on other influencers, each pushing their own biases and agendas. Oftentimes the role of the business analyst is to provide clear, data-driven information to help leadership choose a path.
This is where you come in. You can create clear paths and help CEOs understand the impacts of their potential actions.
Alexandra Nuth, managing director at ATB Financial, says she always focuses on the phrases “so what?” and “now what?” when she’s presenting ideas, as they’re often the top questions CEOs and other company leaders are likely to ask as you present your data.
By asking yourself these questions during the preparation process, you can tighten your presentation to focus on the answers. Plus, when those questions come up in the meeting, you’re better prepared to answer them.
Be Prepared to Respond to Risk-Averse Influencers
While presenting to stakeholders comes with its own set of fears, responding to their criticisms opens a whole other door of worries. As you present your data, you will likely have to answer questions about sources while responding to concerns about your ideas.
It’s okay if people aren’t immediately open to your ideas, Amanda Berlin writes at Forbes. It’s perfectly normal for risk-averse people shut down ideas or panic at the idea of changing the status quo. However, she also says that people don’t fear change so much as they fear risk and ambiguity.
Throughout your persuasion process, try to be as detailed as possible and highlight the dangers of choosing various paths. Change might be scary, but it could be the best option if you explain the risks of staying where you are.
“There are a lot of people...who are suspicious about new ways of doing things, new technology, and new tools,” Duane Craig writes. While his expertise is focused on the construction industry, it also applies to other parts of business.
Craig encourages workers to be transparent about potential drawbacks related to a plan to help people understand the risks. This also allows management to determine whether the change is worth the clearly-listed potential risks.
Practice Negotiation and Flexibility
Flexibility and improvisation can help you respond to concerns, but negotiation skills will help all parties reach an agreement they’re happy with.
Business analyst Siva Ghani Reddy emphasizes the importance of negotiation in the business analyst’s arsenal. You will sometimes have to bring two parties to the table and work to find solutions peacefully.
Without being able to clearly negotiate between problems to find solutions, you will likely be left trying to please everyone or solving problems on your own.
Turn Your Coworkers Into Allies
There is good news for business analytics who worry about approaching leaders to enact change: you have a whole support system build in with the people around you.
Business process analyst Abidemi Stephanie Famuyide encourages BAs to sell various stakeholders on their ideas and win them over so they become advocates instead of trying to muscle change by going straight to the CEO.
She further warns that relying on one person in power to persuade others for you is a risky move, and could leave you stranded if that person changes positions or leaves the company.
Interestingly, the power of persuasion rarely stands on its own. The team at Sticky Learning discovered four main qualities that can be improved to guide your persuasive ability:
Listening: by hearing what others need, you can frame your goals in ways that solve their problems.
Trust: if people don’t trust you, they’re unlikely to speak up or take risks on your behalf.
Likeability: if people don’t like you, they probably don’t want to hear what you have to say.
Communication: those who can’t communicate clearly will struggle to get their ideas across.
While likeability might be hard to measure and hone in one, there are active ways you can practice your listening and communication skills, while helping build trust with your peers. When the time comes, you will be ready to persuade people and develop a team to support your goals.
Help Your Peers Become More Analytically-Minded
If you’re struggling to attract allies, then it might be because your coworkers don’t know what you do or how you can provide value to them.
“People sometimes do not see the importance of a business analyst until they have a task to accomplish and realize how the work of the business analyst brings structure, organization, as well as...a better understanding of the issue,” business analyst Racquel Ellis writes in the BA Times.
If the role of business analyst is new to the company, than your peers might not know what you do or what your qualifications are.
Tina Joseph, owner of B2T Training, believes business analysis should become more of a team activity. Instead of one analyst managing data and running the numbers for other employees and decision-makers, BAs can empower others to run their own analyses, and jump in when the process gets complex. In this way, BAs become strategists and leaders in an organization instead of just assistants.
BAs Can Help Peers Build Up Their Careers
There is a small, tangential benefit to working with your peers to help them understand the value of business analysts: the demand for data analysis skills is growing, and your peers may need this in their future careers.
One study sponsored by The American Statistical Association found that 59 percent of organizations expect to increase the number of positions requiring data analysis over the next five years.
These skills are needed in some surprising departments. Half of business administration positions and 54 percent of human resources positions require data analysis, with data management considered a desired skill from entry-level employees up to senior leadership.
Your peers might remember how you helped them if they receive a promotion with the help of your data analysis training.
Set Aside Your Own Self-Doubts
When you’re finally ready to present to the CEO, risk-averse stakeholders, and peers who you need to support you, there’s one more ally you need on your side. If you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, then you’re not changing anyone’s mind.
Many Business Analysts Are Held Back By Imposter Syndrome
One of the main reasons BAs don’t take over boardrooms is because they don’t feel like they belong.
Imposter syndrome is the idea that no matter how qualified you seem, you’re actually incompetent, unintelligent, and lazy. It’s based on the idea that you made it to where you are by mistake or by manipulating people to think you are better than you are.
Author Jordan Rosenfeld explains that symptoms include negative self-talk, the need to constantly re-check work, and shying away from attention in the workplace. Often these employees place the responsibility of failure solely upon themselves while attributing any success to luck rather than their own skills.
Dr. Pauline Rose Clance, author of The Impostor Phenomenon, says imposter syndrome is fairly common across campuses and workplaces. She noticed female students who sought counseling at Oberlin College often said that they weren’t meant to be at the school, even while they had the highest grades and strong letters of recommendation.
However, Clance has found that both men and women experience feelings of inadequacy at some point in their careers. She says it’s less of a “syndrome,” and more of an experience.
Everyone Doubts Their Abilities At Some Point
It’s okay if you feel intimidated at first. Plenty of business analysts have struggled to feel like their voice is worth listening to when presenting to management — and the more you pretend like you’re supposed to be there, the more you (and others around you) will believe it.
“The notion of acting may sound insincere, but it is not,” employee development consultant Neal Whitten writes. “In effect, you are faking self-confidence in the beginning, and eventually, you will feel more comfortable with your behaviors and become that person.”